Bloomington bonds through the bad
Sept. 9, 2017 at 9:03 p.m.
Updated Sept. 10, 2017 at 6 a.m.
BLOOMINGTON - A small town was buzzing Saturday morning - literally.
The sound of chainsaws cutting through trees could be heard above the hustle and bustle of volunteers talking and organizing supplies at the First Baptist Church, where 54,000 pounds of donations had just been delivered.
Volunteers scurried throughout the family life center of the First Baptist Church, attempting to organize the makeshift distribution center as quickly as possible before residents showed up at 1 p.m. for much-needed supplies post-Harvey.
"It's an amazing sight to see so many helping," said First Baptist Church member Chuck McMichael.
About 75 percent of the homes in Bloomington, an impoverished community in Victoria County, sustained damage after Hurricane Harvey. Though two weeks have passed since Harvey made landfall, many of the residents are still in need of food and cleaning and home supplies. The trailer full of donations arrived Saturday morning from Butler, Pa., for Bloomington residents - a welcome sight for the town.
"It's just amazing to see the trailer stacked front to back to the roof," said Jennifer McClelland, a Bloomington resident.
The donations were collected by Hindman Trucking LLC in Butler, Pa. Owner Buddy Hindman, who collected for disaster relief for those in need after Hurricane Katrina, spread word of the collection through the small town of Butler, with about 13,000 residents. Within a week, Hindman had thousands of pounds of donations from throughout Pennsylvania all the way to New York.
"It was overwhelming, in a good way, to see the amount of people who wanted to help," Hindman said. "It's my belief in God - it's important to take care of our fellow man."
Jim McClelland, father-in-law to Jennifer McClelland and employee of Hindman Trucking, drove 25 hours to deliver the trailer full of donations.
At a combined weigh of 90,000 pounds - donations included - the trailer was overweight and received a $160 fine in one state.
"It was worth it. Seems like people from Butler just connected with Bloomington," Jim McClelland said. "They've been through floods and bad weather and had an idea of what Bloomington would need."
The family life center fills up with donations and is nearly depleted within a couple of days, McMichael said.
"This town was hurting for help, and these donations are a blessing," McMichael said.
Though some residents are able to get by with donations, others had to make the hard choice to leave town after their homes were destroyed.
Haley Smith and her family of four had moved to Bloomington from Placedo just days before Harvey hit. She, her husband Roy and their two children - Aemon, 4, and Elizabeth, 10 months - evacuated to Houston at the plea of family. Their two-bedroom, one-bathroom trailer home was destroyed by Hurricane Harvey.
The roof had caved in the main bedroom, and mold is rampant throughout the home from leaks in the roof. Haley Smith was able to retrieve Aemon's favorite toys - a life-sized Darth Vader and storm trooper toys and a couple of Hot Wheels cars - but not much else. Their vehicle was also damaged, she said.
"We left the day before, and now we can't go back," Haley Smith, 24, said. "It's emotional losing things you worked so hard for."
Though the family has received some assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the family decided it would be best to start over in Houston.
"It's a little scary because we were so happy with our new beginning and getting settled in," Haley Smith said. "But I know the Lord will provide what we need, and we'll get through it."
Back in Bloomington, local veterans have hit the streets to clean up debris and chop trees that have littered residents' lawns. Mike Allen, a U.S. Army veteran from Victoria, said groups of veterans from throughout Texas and the Crossroads have cleaned debris and chopped downed trees throughout the area for the past week.
Saturday, veterans cleaned the Bloomington Veterans of Foreign Wars building and raised a flag at the establishment before helping with yard work for residents. The building is also serving as a distribution center for residents, said Rene Rodriguez, a member of the Bloomington VFW and Marine Corps veteran. Though the days have started to blur and much work is needed to help rebuild the community, Rodriguez said he feels like he can't rest until everything is back to normal.
"We're helping our communities the best that we can. We served, and we're continuing our service," Rodriguez said.